NO·NO is please to present PAGAN DAYS, Pedro Valdez Cardoso's first solo show at the gallery. In PAGAN DAYS Pedro Valdez Cardoso brings together a set of new works in different media that evoke issues around the concepts of visibility, animism and post-rationalism.

Sara Magno

Why talk about witches again ?

In Pedro Valdez Cardoso's artistic career it is common to find a poetic approach to subjects that are fundamentally political - be they associated with gender issues or the impact of a colonial regime on Portuguese society. The approach to these subjects, in spite of always being done indirectly through different poetic artifices, has always been based on a rationalist assumption. However, in the body of work that we now see at NO·NO, the artist transgresses this assumption for the first time. Assuming that rationalism has led humanity to a radical break with the world's ecological balance, the motivation here is to aesthetically explore the realm of irrationality as a possible alternative to a (re)union with that balance. 

Pagan Days points to a form of contemporary paganism that embraces a certain rebelliousness. That is, it includes a discourse that dissents from society's typical order of ideas. Pagan practices over time have been associated with transitional spaces located between the city and the countryside, with wastelands which - because they are owned by nobody - allow non-ecclesiastical magic rituals to be performed. Rituals associated to some women who, precisely because they do not follow the typical order of ideas, are considered perverse and complacent with the supernatural. The figure of the witch epitomizes the rebelliousness of these women and is one of the main references for the imagetic construction of the work on display here. 

Despite the many efforts of feminist movements to deconstruct this figure, it continues to reappear through its representation in the more mainstream cinema, particularly in the category of horror movies. It is well known that horror movies reflect the most irrational fears and anxieties of today's society, it remains to be seen what the root of this fear is so that one can invert the sense of demonization and turn the witch into a figure of women's empowerment. It is this inversion that Valdez Cardoso seeks by using an aesthetics associated to the stereotype of the witch, but also and essentially associated to wastelands which, on the one hand, can be understood as spaces without identity and, on the other, as spaces of transformation and becoming. 

These are determining aspects for the sculpture with the title Ecdise, a central piece in this exhibition found on the lower floor, which refers to the ritualistic altar and to the conjugation of supernatural forces. Covering with one same black snake skin both natural elements and everyday objects, thus forming a single body, this piece points towards animism - that is, the conviction that there is no separation between the physical and spiritual worlds, and rejects the Cartesian dualism that dominates rational logic. With this approach, the artist becomes part of a community, mostly constituted by women, who propose as an alternative a return to paganism and who rebel against an established order - an order that persists by stifling the relationship between humans and nature: capitalism. 

Recent readings on the transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist societies show that the figure of the witch was used precisely to prevent women from practicing medicine, forcing them to submit to the patriarchal control of the nuclear family, destroying a holistic concept of nature that imposed limits on the exploitation of the female body, taking away their land, instilling hunger by shifting from small farming communities to commercial crops, and persecuting them for any sign indicating the practice of magic, i.e. involving the mastery of the irrational (Silvia Federicci, 2018). It can be concluded that, in the same way that the slave trade and the extermination of indigenous populations in the 'New World' paved the way for the rise of the modern capitalist world, the 'witch hunt' can also be seen included in a set of social processes that had as their main objective the disempowerment of women for the rise of a new form of capital accumulation. 

The various objects distributed over the two floors of the gallery establish a discourse among themselves where some of the stereotypes that contributed to instilling fear of dissident women are reviewed. The piece Ângulo Morto (Dead Angle), for example, a composition made from paper napkins, intends to be a disruptive window that reflects a pre-established order or protocol. The end is the beginning, is the end, is the beginning, is the end... composed of a glass and a real bluebottle fly, symbolizes the perpetual circularity in the cycle of life and death, and the capacity for regeneration and reproduction often associated with women. It appears to us here somehow captive, suspended in time, within the glass dome. Pareidolia, on the other hand, is the title of a series of photographs printed in negative invoking the instinctive, automatic and unconscious recognition of a face in inanimate objects, reminding us of our need to socialize and create communities of support and interdependence, which are increasingly a target in the proliferation of social and economic privatization.

The charcoal drawing, Do not go gentle into the night, mounted in a mirrored corner, reminds us of the double association of the woman with the night: on the one hand, the idea of a parallel world dominated by desire and dreams and on the other, associated with the subconscious, the irrational and the world of darkness. In this and other pieces that are part of the sensorial universe of this exhibition we find an aesthetics associated with horror movies and surrealism: a knife with teeth, a painting that takes us to the entrails of a living body, or the snake skin that summons up notions of mutability and transformation. As in all of Valdez Cardoso's work, these are fragments taken from the social fabric and which, by their strangeness, confront us with a certain reality. 

Pedro Valdez Cardoso
30.03 – 19.05.2023
Text : Sara Magno
Photography : Bruno Lopes 
Video : João Silva